Technical Terms: Internet Meme

A meme is a humorous image, caption, idea or action that spreads on online. Memes have been around since the beginning of the Internet and are usually just harmless fun.
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Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Technical Terms: Internet Meme.

So today let's take a look at a humorous but somewhat vague term. Meme. To be more precise an internet meme. So, what is this? Well, wikipedia defines it as an activity, concept, catchphrase, or piece of media that spreads for humorous purposes from person to person on the internet. You've probably seen tons of memes. It can be all sorts of things.

A lot of times it's just a funny picture and it's just something that spreads. People sending each other this funny picture. Sometimes it's using a picture that maybe not that funny on it's own but using it as commentary. Like you'll see a picture getting reused over and over again as a comment somewhere in response to something somebody is saying. It could also be a picture with changing text. A lot of times you see an image and somebody's put some text, a caption, over the image. This is also referred to as meme. As a matter of fact there's some people who think that's exactly what a meme is. When you take an image and you put a caption over it.

But it's much more than that. That's just one type. Because it could be a video too. It could be an animated GIF or jif pending upon how you pronounce it. Sometimes it doesn't have an image at all. Just a phrase by itself and sometimes it's more of an action. Something that you do almost like a prank.

The one thread that's in common here is that it's definitely, usually, funny in some way. Even if it's being sarcastic more than outright causing people to laugh. It's also something that's just online and it spreads. It's not just if you respond to somebody with an image and that's it. That's not a meme. If you do that and then it spreads and other people use it for the same purpose, or different purposes, then it's a meme.

So let's take a look at some examples. One of the earliest memes was simply taking a picture of a cat and putting a caption over it and usually misspelling something in there just for humorous effect. So you can basically just express anything you want by just having an appropriate picture of a cat looking surprised or confused or other human emotion and just using it around. So the meme itself was a picture of a cat with the caption on it.

Now there are different types of memes that had nothing to do with an individual picture. For instance Rickroll was simply a prank. You would try to trick somebody into clicking on a link that went to a music video. That's all it was. But a lot of them are image based. So, for instance, you've got grumpy cat which is an actual individual cat and she has this look on her face of being unimpressed. So usually the caption there, instead of just being anything, just to show some sort of emotion of being unimpressed or bored or, you know, just angry at something.

Likewise there's also a dog, Doge is, I think, how most people pronounce it, that has kind of a funny look and you would have a caption there as well. Sometimes it's just a word. Like you could say Epic Fail and that's a meme but you could also use that on an image. So you could show an image of some disaster happening and say Epic Fail as a caption or text. Sometimes celebrities are included. So somebody puts a picture of Chuck Norris, something funny about how Chuck Norris can do anything.

On of the earliest internet memes was a video of a Dancing Baby. It was a 3D dancing baby that was just kind of funny to look at. People would just send it all around. There was also animated little hamsters that was a very early meme as well. Another example of an animal expression is this chipmunk that, I'm sure the chipmunk isn't doing anything particularly dramatic, but looks very dramatic. So you use this as kind of a way to, you know, as a comment in a thread in a forum or conversation to look dramatic.

Here's another example of a celebrity in one. Usually for this Willy Wonka picture people would put some sort of condescending phrase there because that's kind of the expression he has on his face. So the meme isn't any particular image. It's using this image with a caption. You can use it anyway you want. You can reuse one somebody else already made or you can make your own.

So memes can be all sorts of things. Basically they're just a bit of fun that's spreads around on the internet.